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GEORGE B. BRYAN (1939-1996)


GEORGE B. BRYAN (1939-1996)

George B. Bryan, Professor of Theatre, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 56 on September 19, 1996, at his home in South Burlington, Vermont (USA). The presence of our colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend Professor George B. Bryan in the Department of Theatre at the University of Vermont has touched many lives during the past twenty-five years, and his activities and contributions are perhaps best summarized with an often quoted passage from William Shakespeare's play As You Like It (1600; Act II, scene 7, lines 139-142):

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

George Bryan played many invaluable parts in the dramatic microcosm of our campus, touching countless students and colleagues with his kindness and friendship, with his excellence as a teacher and mentor, and with his encyclopedic mind that contained the intellectual treasure trove of Western civilization from antiquity to the modern age.

To his innumerable students of theatre history he will always be remembered as "Dr. B.", a professor of the old and distinguished class who believed that his profession means "to profess", i.e., to impart knowledge gained to young and eager minds through sound and polished as well as memorable lectures. It was he who was in charge of the classroom, while the students listened and absorbed critical information relating to theatre history. Not that there were no discussions and probing questions in his classes that led to beneficial intellectual exchange, but Prof. Bryan always knew when to pull in the reins and return to the subject matter at hand. As an advisor he was sought out by dozens of students who appreciated his knowledge and sincerity as well as his kindness based on a solid dose of rigor. Prof. Bryan mentored many students, and it was always with justified pride that he would comment on the successes of those students who went on to lead responsible lives in the professional world.

As a scholar George Bryan dealt with European and American topics from the medieval age to the twentieth century. His diachronically oriented research topics were based on a serious commitment to interdisciplinary studies, touching on such varied fields as theatre history, European history, language and literature, religion, medieval culture, Vermont history, paremiology (i.e., proverb studies) and others. There is no doubt that Prof. Bryan as a scholar went far beyond the narrow confines of his own discipline, earning him a regional, national, and international reputation. Here on our campus and throughout his beloved state of Vermont he gained much renown as the Director of the Center for Research on Vermont which he headed for six years. Only last year he published the historical study The Light of Other Days: The First Twenty Years of the Center for Research on Vermont (1995).

His numerous published articles and books were his pride and joy, and he labored on them from morning to night, always driving himself from project to project, ever eager to learn more, never tiring, and basically obsessed with his search for knowledge. One is reminded of Cicero's observation "Ingenium industria alitur" (i.e., Genius is fostered by industry), a piece of wisdom with which George Bryan with his magisterial knowledge of classical Latin certainly agreed wholeheartedly. His work ethics were also clearly based on Virgil's proverbial pronouncement "Labor omnia vincit" (i.e., Labor conquers everything).

George's books, or his children as he liked to call them, are masterpieces indeed and cover a multitude of scholarly fields. Many of them are reference works, showing once again Prof. Bryan's desire to help and teach others through his work. It must suffice here to name just the titles of these books, but let your imagination follow George on his fascinating odysseys of years of dedicated and diligent yet superbly satisfying and rewarding work of the mind: Ethelwold and Medieval Music-Drama at Winchester: The Easter Play, Its Author, and Its Milieu (1981), An Ibsen Companion: A Dictionary-Guide to the Life, Works, and Critical Reception of Henrik Ibsen (1984), Stage Lives: A Bibliography and Index to Theatrical Biographies in English (1985), Stage Deaths 1850 to 1990: A Guide to International Theatrical Obituaries (1991), Ethel Merman: A Bio-Bibliography (1992), and American Theatrical Regulation 1607-1900: Conspectus and Texts (1993).

While continuing his theatrical work along these lines, he also became interested in proverbs about five or so years ago. Imagine my surprise as his friend when in 1992 he appeared at our home with a big smile on his face and a package in his hands, saying: "Here, old friend, I have a present for you". The present was his book manuscript of 482 pages entitled Black Sheep, Red Herrings, and Blue Murder: The Proverbial Agatha Christie (1993). We had collaborated on smaller projects before, but now began our scholarly partnership which has meant so much to both of us. The past few years have been our most productive - little wonder, of course, when two "work horses" join forces and drive each other to the point of ridiculousness. But we loved and enjoyed every minute of it, and as we remarked in the preface to our book on Winston Churchill, "working [together] on this book was so joyous that at work sessions we frequently echoed the words of Franklin Roosevelt to Winston Churchill: 'It is fun to be in the same decade with you'."

Taking the proverb "A true friend is one who knows all your faults and loves you still" as our guide, we plowed ahead through innumerable volumes of letters, speeches, diaries, memoranda, as well as historical and literary works and together published The Proverbial Bernard Shaw (1994), The Proverbial Winston S. Churchill (1995), and The Proverbial Eugene O'Neill (1995). Our book on Proverbs in World Literature (1996) will come out this fall, our The Proverbial Harry S. Truman (1997) is scheduled to appear next spring, and our last joint book on The Proverbial Charles Dickens I am in the process of finishing by myself. The final product will, however, not have the perfection that George's superb mastery of the English language would have brought to it.

The proverb states that "Flowers of true friendship never fade", and our memory of this humanist scholar, this dedicated colleague, this challenging teacher, this caring mentor, and this best of all possible friends will remain in our minds and hearts.

Professor George B. Bryan was a giant among us--a true scholar and a noble gentleman.

Paremiological Publications by George B. Bryan:

"'Zum Tango gehören zwei'." Der Sprachdienst, 27 (1983), 100-102 and 181 (with Wolfgang Mieder).

Review of Elyse and Mike Sommer, Similes Dictionary. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1988. In Proverbium, 6 (1989), 269-272.

"On the Theatrical Origin of the Expression 'Green Room'." Proverbium, 9 (1992), 31-36.

Review of Tony Augarde, The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. In Proverbium, 9 (1992), 283-284.

Review of Alan P. Winton, The Proverbs of Jesus: Issues of History and Rhetoric. Sheffield, England: ISOT Press 1990. In Proverbium, 9 (1992), 319-321.

Black Sheep, Red Herrings, and Blue Murder: The Proverbial Agatha Christie. Bern: Peter Lang, 1993. 482 pp.

"'As Sam Weller Said, When Finding Himself on the Stage': Wellerisms in Dramatizations of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers." Proverbium, 11 (1994), 57-76 (with Wolfgang Mieder).

The Proverbial Bernard Shaw: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of George Bernard Shaw. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994. 286 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder).

The Proverbial Eugene O'Neill: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995. 365 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder).

The Proverbial Winston S. Churchill: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Sir Winston Churchill. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995. 448 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder).

Proverbs in World Literature: A Bibliography. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. 305 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder).

Review of Robert William Dent, Colloquial Language in "Ulysses": A Reference Tool. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994. In Proverbium, 13 (1996), 349-351.

"The Proverbial Sherlock Holmes: An Index to Proverbs in the Holmesian Canon." Proverbium, 13 (1996), 47-68.

The Proverbial Charles Dickens: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Charles Dickens. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. 319 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder)

The Proverbial Harry S. Truman: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Harry S. Truman. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. 252 pp. (with Wolfgang Mieder).

Wolfgang Mieder
Department of German and Russian
Waterman Building
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 04505

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